“I started working with Saint Vincent de Paul before Christmas to help out my father who heads up one of the inner city conferences. I am not religious and would not consider myself a do-gooder, but have always thought about giving some time to help those who have been forgotten by the economic boom.
Christmas is a busy time for all charities and I planned to help out for a few weeks, but I have ended up doing it on a weekly basis. It means giving up two hours every Tuesday night. The evening is based around 'visitations', where we go to families that have requested help from St Vincent de Paul or are part of our regular group we support in various ways.
The community we visit is welcoming and, apart from sometimes being mistaken for Special Branch, we are affectionately called "the Vincents" by kids playing on the streets. It's not about throwing money at people but helping them to help themselves. We try to get those in financial difficulty to visit MABs (The Money Advice Bureau), a free service run by the State that helps people gain control of their finances.
Before starting, I had a lot of preconceptions about volunteer and charitable work but most of them have proved false. I thought helping disadvantaged inner-city families would be depressing: it isn't. There are bad cases, but there is also a strong spirit among these communities and a great sense of pride and history. A lot of the time you have a good laugh talking and visiting people. It's like being in a Sean O'Casey play - a mixture of humour, tears and gut-wrenching reality. People always say 'Doing that work must make you feel great,' but it's not about that. It is intellectually stimulating meeting, talking and listening to people living in a community that I would never have any social interaction with on a normal basis. Most people volunteering are in their late 20s or early 30s. We have great fun and there's a bond among us.
Working with Saint Vincent de Paul won't solve the disparity between rich and poor but it does make some people's lives easier by being there to listen to them and to help them in small ways. It also helps you put your own problems into perspective and to realise that no matter how hard things in life are, some people always have it worse”.
by John Costelllo,
Evening Herald Journalist.